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Polar Bear Plunge starts off New Year on a cold foot

  • CTY-PLUNGE02-5

    From left Laura Leck, Elaina Leck, 14, and Angelina Alvarado, 16, stay warm before the annual Polar Bear Plunge Monday in Waterville, Ohio.

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    Ice breaks apart into the Maumee River as people participate in the annual Polar Bear Plunge Monday at Memorial Park in Waterville, Ohio.

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  • CTY-PLUNGE02-7

    Participants in the annual Polar Bear Plunge try to stay warm prior to the plunge Monday in Waterville, Ohio.

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WATERVILLE, Ohio — After splashing into the icy Maumee River on New Year’s Day, Ben Cranston offered his friend a dollar to take another plunge. 

“No!” his friend, Ryan Sartor replied. 

The two friends walked slowly across the ice as they climbed out of the river, wearing only swimming trunks and a hat. They, among several other participants, hopped into the cold water during the Polar Bear Plunge. 

Many screamed out, “Happy New Year!” as they stood in the freezing water. Others ran into the river, and quickly ran out, realizing it was too much for them to handle. 

It’s an annual tradition at Waterville Memorial Park many from Northwest Ohio participate, organized by The Waterville Historical Society.

“It sounded like fun, fourth year,” Mr. Cranston said. 

Mr. Cranston ran back into the river, so Mr. Sartor followed. Water dripped from their faces as they shivered, walking from the river the second time. Mr. Cranston said his hat was frozen to his head. 

CTY-PLUNGE02-7

Participants in the annual Polar Bear Plunge try to stay warm prior to the plunge Monday in Waterville, Ohio.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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This year, temperatures hovered around 10 degrees. Last year’s plunge was much warmer, said Angie Armbruster, who jumped into the river with her daughter, Grace. They both wore bathing suits.

“If you can do it on this cold day, like today, you can do anything,” said Ms. Armbruster.

Ms. Armbruster has jumped three years in a row, and her daughter has done it twice. The mother-daughter duo hope to recruit another family member with them next year. 

Before jumping into the water, participants slowly began removing pieces of clothing, trying to adjust to the cold temperatures. Some laid large tarps on the ground, so they could haul away their wet clothing. 

CTY-PLUNGE02-5

From left Laura Leck, Elaina Leck, 14, and Angelina Alvarado, 16, stay warm before the annual Polar Bear Plunge Monday in Waterville, Ohio.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Many came in costume, like Laura Leck and Angelina Alvarado, who came dressed as emojis. They’ve been participating for several years. 

Ms. Leck said her feet usually go numb when she hits the water, but they keep coming back every year. 

It was the first time participating for Christy Frank and Jackie Zoltaszek, who dressed as unicorns. A friend made an elaborate ear and flower headpiece for the women, who also sported tutus. 

Ms. Frank said she was interested in the event, and Ms. Zoltaszek agreed to join her. 

“We just figured it was a good way to start out 2018, by overcoming a fun challenge,” said Ms. Frank. 

The plunge was started in 1929 by well-known resident Herb Mericle, who took to dunking himself in the river each Jan. 1 to welcome the new year. Mr. Mericle missed only one year — 1937 — to get married. He then began doing the plunge at 2:30 p.m. to commemorate the time of his nuptials.

Contact Allison Reamer at areamer@theblade.com, 419-724-6506 or on Twitter @AllisonRBlade.

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